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Aldermen add to budget tab

Aldermen sent budget writers back to the drawing board Thursdayafter adding a variety of items from department heads’ “wish lists”to the city’s 2004 spending plans.

Add-on items last night totaled approximately $285,000 in thecity’s general fund, water and sewer and solid waste budgets.Aldermen scheduled another budget meeting for Monday at 5:30 p.m.to go over changes.

“We’ll put everything in there that we went over tonight,” saidCity Clerk Iris Rudman-Smith.

Budget writers are also calculating the effects of raising citystarting pay to $7 an hour, which Ward 2 Alderman Terry Bates saidwould affect about 15 current employees, and promised pay raisesfor specific employees. Calculations for no other pay raises and 3percent raises, plus some insurance-related changes, are also beprepared.

The city’s 2004 fiscal year starts Oct. 1. A budget must beapproved by Sept. 15.

Aldermen last night heard from department heads regardingspecific items on their lists. Several department heads said theycould get by with current equipment, but they added that some ofthe items on the lists were really needed to continue services.

“I’m not just putting it down, there’s a reason I’m putting itdown,” said Fire Chief Paul Cartwright, who lobbied for money fornew fire hoses and computer software.

Street Department Superintendent Jimmy Griffin presented moredire circumstances for some equipment.

“You’re going to start replacing some of this stuff or put itout for repair, plain and simple,” Griffin said.

Proposed budgets in the three operational areas included few ofthe “wish list” items requested. Ward 3 Alderman the Rev. Jerry L.Wilson questioned looking over the lists if the funds were notavailable.

“What’s the use of getting a wish list?” Wilson asked.

Rudman-Smith said items could be added, but it would be up tothe board to make those decisions.

“At the same time you give it, you’ve got to decide where therevenue’s coming in,” Rudman-Smith said.

One option mentioned frequently last night was to delay somerequests and revise the budget later once the city has a betteridea of revenue. Bates advised department heads to hold on to theirlists.

“We’re trying to balance the budget,” Bates said. “We’ll have torevise it later once we get some money in.”

Most items added last night totaled several hundred to severalthousand dollars. Smaller items included radios, an air compressor,hand tools and computer equipment.

Larger items included funds for lease-purchase of five policecars, water tank inspection and sewer line machinery, a recreationdepartment tractor and $40,000 to help refurbish the Alexandergymnasium in a joint project with the Brookhaven School District.Aldermen also voted to add funds for mosquito chemicals and toreplace the city’s obsolete sprayer.

“We’re catching enough hell, and we’re running every night,”said Mayor Bill Godbold about public reaction and the need formosquito control equipment.

Pay raise decisions also remain to be made.

Accepting the role of the “bad guy,” Ward 4 Alderman BobMassengill questioned if pay raises are possible for next year. Hecited annexation expenses, higher health insurance costs, equipmentneeds added last night and other budget expenses.

“We don’t have the money to give raises this year,” Massengillsaid, adding that giving raises could wipe out carryover funds. “Iwant to give everyone a raise, but I don’t see how we can.”

Massengill and Ward 5 Alderman Tom Smith said the employees theyhad spoken with preferred to keep the good insurance rather thanget a raise. With the insurance benefits, Massengill said a $6 anhour employee makes about $25,500 a year, and a $7 an hour employeemakes $27,500.

Bates and Ward 1 Alderman Dorsey Cameron supported the need forsome kind of raise.

“I would hate to be making $6 an hour and know I’m not getting araise,” Cameron said.

Alderman-at-large Les Bumgarner repeated his suggestion ofgiving 3 percent raises and raising employee contributions fordependent health insurance from $55 a month to $100 a month.

Cameron said the health insurance change would take away fromthe pay raises. Giving 3 percent pay raises was estimated to costapproximately $120,000 while the health insurance change would bearound $54,000, which would leave employees with about a 1.5percent raise.

“We’re not going to be able to give raises unless we startmaking adjustments in health care,” Bumgarner said.

Aldermen agreed to look at Bates’ plan to have starting paystart a $7 an hour. Budget calculations to provide for 3 percentraises will also be made in preparation for Monday’s meeting.